9 steps to getting your business up and running after a natural disaster
In Australia natural disaster is never far away. We battle fire, flood, cyclones, storms and droughts - generally all in the same year, happening around the country. The cost both financially and emotionally is huge. Businesses can be disrupted for anything from a day to months to years.
Rebuilding your business is easier said than done. There are financial issues, resource issues (it’s hard to find people and products to repair what is damaged and broken) and then there is the emotional side of things, which is in many ways the biggest issue to cope with.
I’ve worked with many businesses over the years that have faced rebuilding after a natural disaster and the following 9 steps are what I consider vital.
1. Set up your communication channels as quickly as you can.
The first step in the rebuilding process is to make sure you are connected to the outside world and this normally means a working telephone and an email connection. It might mean hiring some computer equipment or getting your mobile phone set up for internet connection (if you haven't already. Even setting up a TV in your building helps to make you feel connected to the rest of the world.
2. The rebuilding process can be overwhelming, break it into chunks.
When standing in a devastated office, shop or factory, the amount of things that need to be done can be totally overwhelming. The best way to deal with this is to break the big and overwhelming "to do's" into small more manageable chunks. Start on the smaller jobs, one by one, normally cleaning up is where we have to start.
3. Your suppliers are on your side - ask for help and they generally will.
Remember that if your business is not making money neither are your suppliers, so it is in their best interest to help you get up and running as quickly as possible. Even though it might be a few weeks before you are ready for stock or replacement equipment, place the order now so that you are in the system. Talk about payments - it is better to be upfront and clarify what you need, especially if there is an insurance claim pending. You might be surprised how flexible your suppliers will be.
4. Have conversations with banks, credit card providers, the ATO and other Government bodies.
Cash flow is going to be a big issue, particularly in the short term. Make the call to your bank and to any institution where you have credit and let them know what has happened. Most of the time they will be supportive by deferring repayments. Regardless of whether you need this right now or not, think about longer term cash flow.
I would also suggest talking to the ATO asap. Let them know what has happened, they should be aware of the disaster and have a plan in place to help businesses to recover. Take advantage of any deferral payment options.
On another note, if you take credit cards in your business you might want to get a hold of a manual machine to at least be able to process credit card payments. It is very likely that there will be many power interruptions once the rebuilding process starts. Down time due to power cuts or telephone line upgrades can mean lost sales - clearly the last thing you need now.
5. Keep the lines of communication open with your team.
This is a tough time for employees in small businesses in particular. They know that the business owner generally doesn't have a lot of money and with none coming in, plus the cost of the rebuild, their job is in jeopardy. Tell your staff what is happening, be honest and lay it on the line. As hard as it is, the pressure of doing what you need to do as well as trying to protect your staff from hard news is simply too much. You might just be surprised by the response from your staff - most will roll up their sleeves and do what they can to help, regardless of whether they are getting paid or not.
6. Take photos and video footage of the situation now and as you rebuild.
When confronted with a pile of rubble or a foot of mud, our initial desire is to get rid of it all so that we can start with a clean slate. But it is important to take photos along the way that show the extent of the damage to stock, to buildings and to equipment.
This is important for insurance claims, many of which won't be paid unless there is some record or proof of damage. It also provides a great sense of pride once we have our business back on track and we have overcome a major set back like this.
7. The biggest risk is your emotional and physical wellbeing.
It is very easy to get sick at a time like this. The emotional toll is enormous, something we can easily overlook. Add to this working long hours in less than ideal conditions and the potential to get really ill is extremely high. You simply have to take care of yourself as this is a marathon event. Talk to others, try not to get caught up in melancholy conversations, and look for positive people.
8. Let your customers know what is going on.
As soon as you are operating again, even if it is in reduced capacity, hang that shingle, turn on the lights and yell it from the street corner. It is vital that you get customers coming back to your business and spending money as quickly as possible and believe me, they will want to support you and your business.
9. There is always an upside, as hard as that is to imagine right here right now.
I know that it is hard to see the upside or the bright side of things at a time like this, but life somehow always seems to give us an unexpected positive when faced by adversity.
I feel that in this instance it is a chance to think about your business, the changes you have been meaning to make but never quite seem to get around to. It is the opportune time to think about your future, what you want out of your business and where you are heading. It is a time to rebuild not just your business but also your dreams and your goals.
Most importantly it is a time to think about what you have, not what you have lost, and to be grateful. The best side of others shines through during tough times like this. Human nature is to help, and even though there are a small minority of not so nice people the vast majority of people will do everything they can to help those in need at times of natural disaster, and from my experience, Australians are the most generous of all people.
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About the contributor:
Andrew Griffiths is Australia’s leading Small Business author with 12 books published and currently sold in over 60 countries. He is widely acknowledged as one of the leading minds in the Small Business space. He is a regular columnist on Inc.com out of New York, a Small Business commentator for CBS, a Mentor in the highly acclaimed Key Person of Influence programme and much more. Touting his own unique style of street-smart wisdom and inspiration, Andrew really is one of a kind. Website:http://www.andrewgriffiths.com.au